City of Trees: Essays on Life, Death and the Need for a Forest by Sophie Cunningham was one of the books I took on holidays a couple of months ago (along with Richard Powers, The Overstory) to Far North Queensland on the edge of the Daintree Rainforest. Both books seemed very appropriate for the occasion. And except for the last two chapters, I had all but finished City of Trees whilst surrounded by all those beautiful tall stands of trees.
I finished those last two chapters during the week.
Cunningham has included line drawings of trees and some of their inhabitants throughout the chapters. Each essay is also littered with family stories and personal memories. Her reflections on grief and loss were particularly moving. However, it’s her love of trees and the knowledge she has gained about them over the years that is the centre piece of this work.
As you would expect, the environmental messages in this book are active and strong. They colour Cunningham’s view of the world. Since I share similar sensibilities with her, I found her essays to be beautiful, heartfelt and undeniable.
And endlessly quotable:
- A tree is never just a tree. It speaks of the history of the place where it has grown or been planted.
- There are individual giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) still living that are older than Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism.
- Walking provides an excellent opportunity to argue with people in your head.
- For reasons that include increases in both temperatures and fuel loads, fires are burning hotter and becoming more dangerous….When forests do burn, old-growth forests don;t do so as intensely as younger forests.
- James Bradley – Grief teaches us that time is plastic. A lifetime is an ocean and an instant. It does not matter whether something happened a week ago, a year ago, a decade ago: all loss is now. Grief does not stop, or disappear. It suffuses, inhabits us. The dead are both gone and never gone, living absences we bear with us.
- Logging advocates exaggerate both the market for old-growth timber and the quality of the timber….In what universe would a reasonable person think it is okay to cut down an 800-year-old tree and reduce it a few hundred dollars’ worth of woodchips?
You can follow Sophie on Instagram with her #treeoftheday hashtag.